Herb garden designs layouts

Combine multiple small herb pots in baskets for a flexible, cohesive design

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” Herb garden design is perhaps, one of the most delightful activities for the gardener.

Whether you have room for only a container, or are blessed with room for raised garden beds, your culinary herbs will delight the senses and give your love for design full expression.

The most successful small herb garden designs combine your favorite herbs and flowers in pretty combinations.

The photo to the right is an example of a great small herb garden design that is very easy to achieve. Individual pots of herbs and flowers are grouped together in baskets. The baskets are very effective in providing a cohesive look.

The baskets are also portable which is an important design element for a small area since they can be moved when you need to re-purpose the same space. This pretty design is also very flexible, allowing you to bring individual herb pots indoors while cooking or switch out different flowers and herbs depending on the season.

Container Herb Garden Design

Use unique containers to provide color and interest in the herb garden

Urban homes often have very limited space for gardening. That’s one of the reasons that container herb garden design is thriving in cities. Any apartment with a window that supplies plenty of light, or a balcony that has a sunny spot, can support a container garden.

Those containers can be just about anything you want them to be, as long as there are drainage holes in the container. Without drainage holes, water will be retained for too long, causing root rot for your herbs.

The design of your container garden will, of course, be based on the type of container you use. Just remember that water runs downhill, so if you tier your gardens allow for controlled runoff. Where will the water go, and what will it take with it?

For example, the beautiful strawberry pots are popular with herb gardeners, but, how do you water them? The pockets that circle the pot are hard to water, often overflowing and uprooting the herb in the small space it occupies.

The key, here, is to use a piece of 2″ PVC pipe in the center of the planter. Drill holes all around the pipe, for the full length of it, and leave the center clear. Pack dirt around it in the pot. When you water, pour water into the pipe, and it will seep into the soil, watering the plants from the inside out. This type of design helps with watering plants in tall containers of any type.

Design your container garden with an eye for diversity. A basket or pot can support 3 or 4 different herbs, and supply plenty of each for most of your cooking needs. Make sure you select herbs with similar light and water needs.

Small Herb Garden Design in the Outdoor Garden

Those with limited space outside may be interested in small herb garden design. You don’t need a lot of space for a great garden – all you need is plenty of sun. Most herbs thrive only in full sunlight, although there are some that can handle shade.

Growing herbs along the fence line can add warmth and wind protection

Some of the prettiest and most bountiful herb gardens are grown in the limited alley space behind a suburban fence. Planting against a fence helps to keep the soil warm, since sunlight reflects light and warmth back onto the garden.

Growing along a fence also protects the plants from wind, if that’s a problem in your area.When designing your small herb garden, consider access. If you have access to the plants from all sides, design the tallest plants to be in the middle. If you design your small herb garden with access in mind, you won’t have to reach around taller plants to reach smaller ones.

If you are planting your herbs against a fence, plant the taller plants against the fence for the same reason. This not only creates a pretty layering of plants, but it also keeps you from breaking larger plants as you tend to the smaller ones.

If you have limited space for your herb garden, consider going “up” to maximize the space. Use a tall container in the center of a round or square area. This will get larger plants up above the garden, leaving more surface area on the ground for other plantings. You can even add more tiers for more planting area.

Another great way to transform your outdoor space. Photo credit: jsonline.com

A checkerboard pattern can be used in small gardens. It doesn’t need to be as elaborate as the photo to the right. Four or six squares would still give you plenty of room for several crops.

This design would be perfect next to a small seating area where your guests could wander along the walkways admiring your garden crops along the way. Plant taller herbs in the center of each square and add in a few edible flowers for maximum interest.

Re-purpose livestock troughs as a planter

If your available space is long and narrow, consider a trough arrangement. You can often find concrete or stone troughs that are quite attractive and decorative.

Place it in the middle of your planting space or along a fence, and plant your tallest, bulkiest plants in this trough. This gets them off of the ground, leaving more ground space for shorter plants. Believe it or not, a metal watering trough from the farm supply store may be just the solution for this elevated planter.

Raised Herb Garden Design

While these other designs used raised elements to add volume and space to the herb garden, a true raised herb garden design eliminates a great deal of stooping and bending usually associated with any type of gardening. Lower raised beds are equally good in the garden, especially if you live in an area with rocky or clay soil.

Many times a raised garden bed doesn’t add that much in the way of planting space, it just gets the plants up where you can reach them. The one exception is with square foot gardening.

4×4 Raised Bed Square Foot Herb Garden. Photo Credit: Two men & a little farm

Using the square foot gardening approach, here is a space-saving layout for an herb garden. Square foot gardening is a popular method to minimize weeds, conserve water and space while maximizing the yield in your garden. It is widely used in many vegetable and herb growing communities.

The square-foot layout is a great way for the very orderly gardener to plant herbs. Ideal for smaller spaces, each square will be designated for a single herb variety.

Want to build your own? Here are 6 easy steps to create your own square foot herb garden.

Square-Foot Herb Garden Setup

  1. Select an area that receives 6-8 hours of sun.
  2. Place weed cloth or thick cardboard on the ground to prevent weeds from growing into your herb bed.
  3. Build or buy a four-foot square garden box. 6-8 inches deep is perfect.
  4. Fill with soil. You can make your own planting soil with equal parts peat, vermiculite, and compost.
  5. Add the grid – measured 12 inches apart, you can use twine & a nail or spare pieces of lumber to layout your squares.
  6. Plant your herbs! Tall ones in the middle & shorter ones along the edges.

The white raised garden bed shown below is pre-made kit perfect for the square-foot garden method. This is the 4 x 4-foot size and which is 11 inches deep.

Vita Gardens 4×4 Garden Bed with Grow Grid

We like this planter since it doesn’t require any tools to set up. It is also made from a premium PVC material that won’t rot, fade or wear out over time.

Two or more kits can be used if you’d like to add vegetables or create a unique design in your backyard. You may decide to create pathways between each square. These pathways are often handicapped accessible with plenty of room for walking aids or wheelchairs.

When designing your own layout, any single planters should be narrow enough so you can easily reach the center of the planter without losing balance – four feet wide is normally a good rule of thumb.

The pyramid planter is a fun design which allows you to create several different planting sections. It is visually beautiful while also quite functional, as the design allows you to reach all sections without needing to step into the garden bed itself.

The Triolife 3-Tier Plant Pyramid

This is a truly unique herb garden design that will surely stand out from the crowd. It’s quite big at about 3 feet wide & 2 tall, so you can grow your entire herb garden in this planter.

Another popular design for the raised herb garden is the zigzag. It’s especially useful in small yards, where there just isn’t room for a checkerboard. With the zigzag pattern, you still have accessibility and can easily reach the centers of the planters, but the design lends visual interest.

Most raised beds feature some type of drainage in the retaining wall. While a weed barrier is often laid on top of the ground, with the raised planter built on top, drainage for these large areas can be a problem. The drainage hole can be as simple as a gap left between two abutting landscaping logs or can be a perforated drain that channels away excess water.

Raised Garden Bed Kits

If you don’t want to build a raised garden from scratch, you can order a raised garden bed kit. Here are 2 types of raised garden kits which work well for herb gardens.

The first is a freestanding version. You can place the VegTrug Raised Garden Planter directly on a patio or deck which is a great way to create an herb garden when space is at a premium. It also is a great solution for anyone with a bad back.

The VegTrug 1 Meter Raised Planter

The planter box is about 30 inches high, so you won’t have to bend down at all while watering or clipping your fresh herbs.

A pre-formed liner and a built in drainage system. This design will maximize your harvest and is easy to maintain and harvest without killing your knees in the process.

The Three Tier Garden

The second is another good design for small spaces since you can grow vertically.

3 Tier Elevated Garden Bed

This Tiered Garden Kit is very easy to put together and is made from natural wood with no chemicals added. The stacked design lets you plant several types of herbs and vegetables together in a compact area.

Purchasing a raised garden bed kit is a super easy way to start your herb garden without interfering with the rest of your garden landscape. Just locate a corner of your yard that gets great light and is close to the kitchen. Then simply setup your planter, add soil & herbs.

Don’t let awkward or limited spaces keep you from developing a great herb garden design. There is always a way to make small spaces work when gardening. Sometimes you just need to be a little creative, then you can enjoy fresh, fragrant herbs year round with your own herb garden.

Last updated by Virginia Dodd at March 2, 2019.

Use One of These Four Simple Garden Designs to Grow Kitchen Herbs

Several of the top culinary herbs, such as dill, basil and cilantro, are fast-growing annuals whose seeds can be easily sown directly in the garden. Most other cooking herbs are hardy perennials that come back every year. Perennial herbs can be grown from seed, too, but the seedlings require several months to reach picking size. Some herbs require starting with plants that were propagated from rooted stem cuttings. For example, mints that carry the subtle flavor of chocolate or pear are best purchased as plants, and the only tarragon worth having is French tarragon, which is always grown from rooted cuttings. To be sure you’re getting true French tarragon, taste a leaf before you buy. It should have a zippy licorice flavor.

Speaking of rooted cuttings, if you buy fresh mint, oregano or marjoram at the store, and you decide you’d like to grow it, by all means choose a few healthy sprigs and try growing them as rooted cuttings. Just pinch off all but the top three or four leaves, trim the base of the cutting back to green healthy tissue, plant the cutting in a pot of moist soil, then cover with a plastic bag for a few days. I have rooted oregano right in the garden by covering the cutting with a flowerpot for a week (the pot protects the little plant from sun until it has time to grow roots). My mint got its start as a supermarket sprig, too, and after four years in a large pot it’s still going strong.

Rosemary is not consistently winter hardy beyond Zone 7, and cold winter winds can damage oregano, sage and tarragon, even in areas where they’re rated hardy. The safest way to make sure your favorite perennial herbs survive winter is to move them to pots, allow them to become dormant, then keep them in a cold garage or outbuilding where temperatures seldom drop below 20 degrees. Or dig and store only rosemary, and surround your other perennial herbs with a 12-inch-tall wire cage filled with loose straw or pine needles. A loose pile of evergreen boughs arranged over the plants’ crowns also does an excellent job of protecting them from biting winter winds. Remove either form of winter protection about a month before the last expected frost.

You may want to mail order special strains of some culinary herbs, or wait until spring and shop for plants at local garden centers or herb farms. As you examine prospective adoptees, take a moment to check the pot to see how many plants are growing there. Last spring when I bought what was offered as a single sage plant, I found four nicely rooted cuttings in the pot, which were easy to pull apart and put out in individual planting holes. Small pots of basil often contain more than a half dozen little seedlings, which can be divided and transplanted, provided you shade them from the sun for a few days as they become accustomed to their new home.

If all of this talk of seeds and cuttings has you feeling confused, take a deep breath and relax. Your first venture into a kitchen herb garden is sure to be successful if you start with a simple planting plan like the ones shown here. Fill your garden with tried-and-true favorites, which are offered as collections by Mountain Valley Growers, Blossom Farm and many other herb growers. Start small, keep it simple, and you’re sure to be delighted by the fantastic flavors of your kitchen herbs.

Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant has smothered the steps leading to her deck with kitchen herbs.

Herb gardens are happy places. “Much virtue in herbs, little in men,” observed Ben Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanack. Whether or not one shares his acerbic observation about mankind, I think we all can agree that the essential nature of an herb is honorable.

Like Mr. Franklin, I have never met an aromatic or savory culinary plant I did not like. In fact, herbs often inspire in me an urge to create theme gardens: a cook’s herb garden, a medicinal herb garden, an ornamental herb garden, a windowsill herb garden, a knot herb garden, a colonial herb garden, and a fragrant herb garden. To name a few.

Designing an herb garden is an exercise in instant gratification; many herbs are fast-growing plants to harvest (or at least snip) within weeks of germination. Keep reading for tips on how to create our favorite types of herb gardens—and read on for a list of our favorite must-grow herbs from our Edibles 101 plant guide.

Medieval Herb Gardens

Above: A re-creation of a medieval herb garden in a former prison exercise hard at Ypres Tower in East Sussex. Photograph by Jim Linwood via Flickr.

In medieval times, the hortus conclusus (or closed garden) was home to medicinal and culinary herbs, scented and flowering, such as chamomile, sage, hyssop, dill, and rue.

See more design ideas in Edible Gardens 101: A Design Guide.

Medicinal Herb Gardens

Above: See more of this garden at Healing Herbs: A Modern Apothecary Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show. Photograph by Jim Powell for Gardenista.

Thyme, rosemary, lavender, and chives have healing properties that make them essential plants in an apothecary’s herb garden. Other perennials, such as aloe and echinacea (coneflowers), are used to heal wounds and often grow side by side with herbs. See more in Aloe 101: A Field Guide to Planting, Care, and Design and Gardening 101: Coneflowers.

Colonial Herb Gardens

Above: On a trip to Viriginia, Justine discovered Secrets of Another Century at Colonial Williamsburg.

In colonial times, gardens planted with vegetables and herbs produced food, tonics, and aromatic air fresheners. Rosemary, thyme, lavender, and chamomile grew in Colonial Williamsburg alongside leeks, beans, kale, and onions.

See more in Edible Gardens 101: A Design Guide.

Kitchen Herb Gardens

Above: Photograph by George Billard. For more, see Garden Visit: A Cook’s Garden in Upstate New York.

In her cook’s garden in upstate New York, Gardenista contributor Laura Silverman grows vegetables, flowers, and herbs in raised beds. “Field garlic, transplanted from the wild, and echinacea both find their way into the kitchen,” she writes. “I make an elixir with citrus and the dried flower heads to ward off flu in the winter.”

Above: Purple and green basil make happy companions in a raised bed herb garden in Laura Silverman’s herb garden. Photograph by George Billard.

See more in Sweet Basil 101: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design.

Indoor Herb Gardens

Above: See step-by-step tips for planting your own indoor herb garden at Small Space DIY: Countertop Herb Garden. Photograph by Erin Boyle.

Formal herb gardens—with their symmetry, knots and interweaving textures—can look intimidating. But to create a simple formal herb garden, all you really need to do is choose a geometric shape, like a circle or a square, divide it into sections of equal size and fill each section with similar or complementary plants. Designing a formal herb garden is easy enough. Just don’t lose sight of the maintenance involved with keeping order in your herb garden. The more precise the lines, the more any wayward plants will stick out like a sore thumb.

A less labor-intensive approach is to give your herb garden the bones of a formal layout and then fill it with exuberant herb plants that can be allowed to mature, fill in and spread without constant supervision.

Choosing Plants for an Herb Garden

When selecting plants for a formal herb garden, consider the growth habits and mature sizes of the plants. Place low creepers, like thyme and chamomile, on opposite path edges to complement each other. Put more aggressive herbs, like mints and lemon balm, in pots either above or below the ground.

Most herbs used for culinary purposes won’t be allowed to flower early in the season. So focus on texture and foliage color to bring a sense of fullness to your herb garden design.

Make sure all the plants can be accessed, both for harvesting and maintenance, without walking into the beds. The paths should be at least three feet wide for easy walking. Since this is a formal garden, the paths can be paved or mulched to provide the axis for the garden.

The garden design shown here contains 20 different herb plants. Most of these plants will flower at some point in the season, but there is plenty of variety with just the plant shapes and textures. The sprawlers are kept to a minimum, to retain a somewhat formal feel. You can, of course, improvise any way that suits you.

The color scheme is another unifying element that adds to the formality. It makes use of the complementary color combos of purple/yellow and blue/orange. If the orange of the calendula and nasturtiums is too bold for you, you can always substitute one of the paler yellow varieties or the pink variety of calendula.

The center of a formal herb garden is usually the focal point. Even though there is a formality, the focal point is a chance for you to show your gardening personality. It could be a large herb plant, such as a sweet bay tree or large potted rosemary. Many gardeners like to put a garden ornament in the center of their herb gardens, like a birdbath, either as a bath or as a planter. Another popular feature is placing a sundial in a small center bed and surrounding it with thyme plants. Whimsy is permitted in a formal herb garden.

Below is a list of plants used in this basic garden design (read on for more detail), but remember, the plants you choose to use (and number and variety) will depend on the specifics of your garden.

  1. Lavender bee balm
  2. Thyme
  3. Cilantro
  4. Lavender
  5. Lemon balm
  6. Borage
  7. Tarragon
  8. Nasturtium
  9. Chives
  10. Purple sage
  11. Dill
  12. Lemon thyme
  13. Greek oregano
  14. Bronze fennel
  15. Golden variegated sage
  16. Calendula
  17. Parsley
  18. Basil assortment
  19. Chamomile
  20. Bird bath

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When planning a new herb garden there are many different approaches you can take. Herbs can be planted in a formal garden interspersed with flowers, trees and shrubs or in theme gardens. You can also just plant a patch outside your kitchen door for cooking purposes. Use whatever works best for you and your particular needs.

For gardeners that like projects or who have been gardening for some time and want a challenge, a formal garden is best. A formal herb garden consists of a series of beds interspersed with walk ways. The beds do not have to be identical, but should be balanced and work together. In the 16th century, gardeners designed “knot” herb gardens in which the plants create intricate, geometric patterns within a square or triangle. When designing a knot garden, choose low-growing, compact plants such as thyme, hyssop and rosemary. Avoid fast-growing invasive herbs such as those from the mint family. They’ll eventually just take over your garden.

Now you can enjoy growing indoors all year long! At Planet Natural, we’ve carefully selected only the best indoor gardening supplies — from lighting and hydroponics to starter plugs and growing mediums — to make your indoor growing experiences blossom.

Plant herbs in large clay pots to create the classic look of a French culinary garden. Be sure to use plenty of basil, thyme, marjoram, lavender, summer savory, rosemary, sage and fennel. Herbs can be grown by themselves or in groupings, depending upon your preference. Visit the Iowa State University Extension for more on culinary gardens.

To keep your garden looking great throughout the growing season, consider interspersing your herbs with flowers, shrubs and other plants. That way, something will always be blooming and your garden will continue to impress, even while other plants have passed their prime.

Finally, consider a theme garden. Themes can include kitchen gardens planted with herbs used in cooking (thyme, sage, basil, tarragon, dill) or herb gardens that focus more on scent including mint, scented geranium, lemon balm and rosemary. Heck, it’s your herb garden! As long as you’re not entering a competition, you can create any kind of theme you want. All that really matters is that you enjoy it.

Companion Planting

Many herbs are used as companion plants in vegetable and flower gardens. Companion planting is based on the belief that certain plants, when grown near each other, are mutually beneficial. For example, basil attracts honey bees which are needed to pollinate tomatoes. Garlic is known to deter many garden pests and may even contribute to the flowering of some plants. Chives are often grown as a border around rose gardens to prevent black spot. Many herbs (dill, yarrow, rosemary, coriander) will also provide a desirable habitat for beneficial insects — predatory and parasitic insects that help to keep pest populations under control.

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If the lists of compatible plants at various sites online leave you dizzy, you can instead focus on our relatively short list of basic principles here:

Here are the Do’s

  • Plant short, shade-tolerant plants beneath taller, bushy plants.
  • When you mix sun-loving plants, put tall ones at the north end of the plot and small ones at the south end, so all will get needed sun.
  • Plant herbs throughout the garden, especially basil, mint, sage, and dill. EXCEPTION: Keep dill away from carrots.
  • Plant cosmos and French or Mexican marigold here and there in and near the garden to repel pests and encourage beneficials that prey on them.
  • Do the same with chives, garlic, or onions EXCEPT near or amongst beans.
  • Exploit the different maturation rates of different crops: plant lettuce, cilantro, spinach, or chard early where you plan to set out squash and melons later, so that weeds don’t have a chance to move in, and you get two crops instead of just one.

Here are the Don’ts

  • Don’t mix dill with tomatoes or with carrots.
  • Don’t plant garlic, onions, or chives with beans.
  • Fennel does not mix well with most other plants; keep it in its own corner.

Keep in mind, that since most companions must be planted very near each other to have any effect, companion planting is especially well-adapted to small gardens where plants are grown in close proximity and space is at a premium.

How to Design an Herb Garden

By Steven A. Frowine, The National Gardening Association

Planting herbs in your vegetable and flower beds works quite well, as long as you plant your herbs in sunny location with well-drained soil. But you can also design a garden bed devoted entirely to herbs.

When to plant your herbs depends on the plant, but you can’t go wrong planting herbs the same way you plant vegetable seedlings; that is, plant them out in the garden after all danger of frost is past. The reason this strategy works for most herbs is that a lot of them aren’t especially cold-tolerant. This technique also gets them in the ground under encouraging conditions: warm soil, warm air, and a good summer stretching out ahead of them. They should surge right into robust growth.

If you’re considering planting your herbs in an already-existing garden, here are two options:

  • Herbs growing by vegetables: Adding edible herbs to your vegetable garden is a good idea. They like the same growing conditions of fertile soil and full sun, and when you’re in the mood for a spontaneous summer meal, everything you need is right at hand. Some favorite choices include basil, dill, parsley, cilantro, fennel, thyme, and chives.

  • Herbs mingling with flowers: This type of planting works best for herbs with pretty flowers of their own, as well as ones that can contribute attractive foliage. Imagine not just how pretty the flower bed will be but also the intriguing homegrown bouquets you can assemble if you widen your palette to include some herbs. Favorite choices include sage (including the kinds with colorful leaves), dill, mint, basil (especially the purple-leaved kind), artemisia, and borage.

For many gardeners, the best solution for growing herbs is just to put them all in their own garden. Follow the usual rule for flower gardens; namely, place taller herbs to the back or in the middle of a bed, with shorter ones at the front, so you can see, appreciate, and access everything.

You can choose from many types of herb gardens, but generally herb gardens are either formal or informal. You’d be wise to plan a formal garden ahead on paper, making a geometric design. Install the layout first, with edgings and pathways in place; use bricks, rocks, gravel, or even grass. Edging plants such as small boxwood plants, germander, or a sheared low hedge of lavender or dusty miller also work but require more care.

Plan a formal herb garden plan by making a geometric design.

If you prefer informal herb gardens, take note: A casual bed devoted to all herbs can look delightfully cottage-gardeny, or it can look like a jumble. So make a plan on paper for this sort, too — set it up like your vegetable garden or your favorite flower garden — and then see what happens, making alterations as you see fit. Aim for a harmonious mix of foliage colors and types, with the occasional exclamation point of a flowering herb.

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